STAFFORD TOWNSHIP - Township Business Administrator James Moran revealed Thursday morning what township officials are calling a bare-bones budget due to increases in health benefits, higher than expected snow-removal costs and other expenditures nearing $2 million.

Because of revenue losses, the township is faced with a 2.96-cent increase in the tax rate, Moran said. That will result in an increase of $89 for the average assessed home of $301,000 in the township. The township budget remains $700,000 below the state levy cap and well below the expenditure, he said.

"Last year, we were under the expenditure cap by $816,000, and this year we're under by $1.3 million," he said.

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The township's current debt is $71 million, while its debt capacity is $105 million.

"So we are nowhere near our maximum debt capacity and we are reducing our debt this year by a half-million (dollars). We're 40 percent below our maximum debt ceiling," Moran said.

Mayor John McMenamin lauded Moran for putting together the spending plan.

"Jim got everything down to the bare possible minimum without sacrificing services. I think the public will be very surprised by the numbers. We have really cut this down to the bare bones," McMenamin said Thursday morning during a budget workshop meeting.

"From what I see (and) hear, it looks like you did your homework," Councilman Stephen Fessler told Moran during the meeting.

Moran said he was still concerned that the township will appropriate $3.3 million from the surplus into the 2010 budget.

The 2010 budget information comes as the township battles with the local police union after laying off five police officers in a $600,000 cost-saving move. All the township unions except the Policemen's Benevolent Association Local 297 have agreed to a contract with no raises in 2009 and 10 furlough days in 2010, followed by 3 percent raises through 2012. If the police union had agreed to the offer, the officers' jobs would have been spared, township officials have said.

On Thursday, Moran read from a packet of budget information compiled for Township Council members. The document was not available to the public or The Press of Atlantic City and will not be until the budget is formally introduced, Moran said.

The proposed $38.1 million spending plan is $400,000 more than last year's budget, with a budget cap increase of 1.1 percent, Moran said.

The budget appropriates a little more than $5 million for capital projects.

Moran said the township had to contend with a number of problems in preparing the 2010 budget, including a 21 percent cut in state aid that translates to $702,000. Increased payroll costs alone for the township represented $700,000, he said. That, coupled with other cost increases, represents a total increase that tops out at nearly $2 million.

Moran said there was a 27 percent cut in special revenues and losses of about 5 percent, or $40,000, in other revenues.

"All of that revenue had to be made up in one way or another," Moran said.

Moran added that every township contract settlement made so far started with no raise in 2009 and 10 furlough days in 2010 for all employees who agreed to the contract.

The budget cuts affected all departments in the township, Moran said.

Public health and safety had cuts of 3½ percent; building and zoning had a 7 percent cut; administration and the Legal Department will experience a 12 percent cut. There also will be miscellaneous cuts of 9 percent.

"This budget could not have been accomplished without the cooperation of every employee who settled their contract," Moran told Township Council.

Moran added that employee insurance and benefits increased by 13.6 percent in the 2010 budget, while the Public Works Department and landfill saw an increase of 3.5 percent due to $275,000 in snow-removal costs for which the township will not be reimbursed. Public works salaries will increase 37 percent because of overtime for the snow removal.

But collectively, salary and wages in the township are down by 1 percent. Township salary reductions were introduced as follows:

n A 35 percent reduction in general administration salaries; 24 percent cuts in mayor and council salaries; 15 percent reductions in the Municipal Clerk's Office; and 4 percent reductions in the Police Department.

Councilman John Spodofora said some of the cuts in the budget were scary but that the township is hurting like many other municipalities in the state.

"Really, there's no fat in this budget at all. Everyone in the township - the employees are taking a hit in this budget. This is a balanced budget. To get this budget to where it is, we had a lot of cooperation from the employees," Spodofora said.

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